October 2007 Archives

Teaching me Go

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Dobe asked about Peter and games. I have a couple of things to say in that area, but I'll start with this one.

Peter taught me to play Go when I was a kid. The way he taught me went kind of like this:

He would play a stone.

I would look at the board and not know what to do.

He would tell me where the best place to play was.

I would play there.

He would then make a better play of his own that cancelled or countered the play I had just made.

After several repetitions of this, it began to feel to me like (a) he was really just playing himself, while I watched (I wasn't really participating); and (b) the moves he was telling me to make were only leading me into trouble.

I'm sure none of that was intentional on Peter's part; he was trying to share this wonderful game with me. Not his fault that his approach to teaching it to me pushed some of my buttons.

But I never really got into Go. Even though several of my friends have gotten into it over the years.

I was pleased recently to pick up a Go book belonging to someone or other (Kevin, maybe?) and to be able to follow it; it was a detailed introduction to liberties and how to tell whether a group is alive or dead, and it made a lot more sense to me than it did when I was a kid. (My feeling as a kid was that Peter would point to a group of stones and tell me "Those are dead," and I could never understand how he knew that; it always seemed kind of mystical and vague to me.)

Still, the traditional boardgames (chess, Go, Othello, checkers, etc) were never my strong suit, and knowing that I could study my whole life and still never be all that good made me more or less uninterested in playing Go.

But I know it was always one of Peter's great loves.

What ended up happening to Peter's big solid wooden Go board? Do I have it in the garage? Dobe, did you end up with it? I hope it's somewhere where it'll be used.

...At some future point I'll write about pinochle and/or poker. But not tonight.

The Games Peter Played

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The first time I realized that Peter liked to play games was in Port Townsend, where he had moved back from Mexico to live with the family, was when he first showed me a Mahjhong game with fancy tablets and a board, and I think he actually introduced me to the game of Go there, although I don't remember playing, so if he had a board there, I think he did not know how to play yet.

Where he learned the game of Go, I'm not sure, although he taught a lot of people the rules over the years, as have I. Also, I am hazy about when we first started to play. I know it prior to 1967, because I still have the original stones I bought that year in Seattle, but it was probably after 1964, since we did not play nor have a board in New York City, 1964.

When we did take our beginning steps, neither of us knew as much we did in later years, having only an inkling about strategies and concentrating solely on tactics. However, Peter always managed to win.

Nevertheless, we learned, we got better, and when either of us learned, we would attempt to share the knowledge, knowing it would only make for a much better game. Peter during this period was MUCH better at Go than I was, but given handicap stones, we would have even games and played by the hour when we could, through the years.

In the mid-1980's, I was newly divorced and living in Seattle and had the opportunity to live at the Seattle Go Dojo, then just off I-5 and 47th in the U District. Peter had lived and frequented this area many years before and even I had lived not that far away, so it seemed like old home week after being away for years. For example, the Peter's old hangout in the U District was "The Blue Moon" on 45th, which was a block away.

During and after the year that I lived at the Dojo, I learned so much about Go that Peter was amazed whenever we played. We had reversed roles, wherein I could repay him in some small measure for the tremendous gift he had given me in opening me up to the world of Go. Life was good.

Years later -- Peter had moved into my rental house in Snohomish for a few months, prior to making the decision on where to return to get his teaching certificate in Bellingham. I had a couple PCs, (old by today's standards), a 386 and a 486 (Blazing fast!). One was set up for Peter's use downstairs, and one morning he didn't get up until really late, and I asked him why.

He told me that he had started playing "Poker" in Windows and didn't stop all night. That used to come with Windows or some specialty pack and I used to play it, too. It's very easy to start losing and wind up "owing" the system thousands of dollars... I don't remember what he said he owed (or won), but I was surprised at this electronic game keeping Peter's attention for that many hours.

I will say one more thing. Toward the end of his life, he REALLY liked to play one and only one game on the PC, which is "Minesweeper". If you've played this, and you're really good, you can win during the countdown "clock", which starts at 000 and counts to 999. Your score is then the seconds remaining when you get the puzzle clicked in correctly. It comes with Windows, so try it sometime (on Expert setting), and if you win, note the score.

Most people who have played this game and get pretty good at it, know they might get a score of 500 to 900, thus beating the clock, but certainly no records. Now I don't know what the record is on the default setting of expert, but I think Peter must have come close. He was very excited and proud, really, in a way, that he had achieved a score of (about) 350, I don't remember the exact score. My personal best, BTW, is in the mid-400's, but normally win, when I win, with more like 500-600.

There's a lot more about Peter and games, would you please share your favorite story with us about Peter playing a game?

Peter's attitude toward money

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My memories were stimulated yesterday (by some unrelated comment) of the first day of my arrival to visit Peter in NYC in 1964, (the year of the World's Fair there, which Peter later sent me off to, alone for the day).

I had finally found my way to his apartment, having taken the bus all the way from Tacoma, (about a 3+ day trip as I recall). I was 15, while Peter was a youthful 24 or so...

Anyway, I didn't have very much money, but what I had on me was placed on the bed in the front room (which was to be my sleeping place for two months). I remember thinking how little it was, probably less than $5, mostly in change, but that since Peter was putting me up for that summer, I offered it all to him.

There was little money that summer. Peter said he was "translating Russian math texts" or something and he pounded away at a manual typewriter a lot. I think he longshored a couple times, as well.

Surprisingly, therefore, at one point, Peter swept all this change toward the wall, and under the bed, where it remained until nearly the day of my impending departure.

I had nearly forgotten this incident, not having thought of it for years and years, but it really was indicative of how Peter felt about money, don't you think? He was always very generous, but didn't really think about savings or investments, but rather, how many books he could buy.

I once went into a store to buy some food with him and he discovered he only had a little money. He bought a cheese slicer and proudly took it home and announced how much he liked it; that he had always wanted one. Of course, on that occasion, there was no cheese to cut. (I'm sure we didn't go hungry for long!)

Thanks, Peter, for a memorable summer!

Thinking and pens

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Peter regularly said, when I was a kid, that he couldn't think without a pen in his hand. (I think I know the feeling--if I don't have a computer keyboard or a pen or some other means of transcribing thoughts in front of me, it's easy for my thoughts to get stuck running around in circles.)

Somehow that comment of his got conflated in my head with his habit of doing crossword puzzles in pen. Sometimes he would make mistakes, but he would just cross them out or overwrite them.

And that leads me to his habit of correcting typos (in pen) in printed books, but I'll talk about that in another entry.

Matrix encryption


Sorry for the long silence--was busy, then had to spend a bunch of time fixing some problems with the blog. All fixed now, I think.

Welcome, Dobe! Thanks for posting!

On my way home from work this evening, I suddenly remembered something I hadn't thought of in years: at one point when I was a kid (no idea how old), Peter taught me a nifty encryption technique based on matrix multiplication.

It turns out that this was a basic form of Hill cipher, but I didn't know that at the time.

To use the system, we first had to create two tables for doing math on letters: a multiplication table and a division table. Each letter corresponded to a number: A was 1, B was 2, etc. I think space was zero. It's possible that we added a couple other characters to create a prime number of characters, but for simplicity in this description, let's say we didn't. In that case, the multiplication and division were done modulo 27. So A x A = 1 x 1 = 1 = A; B x C = 2 x 3 = 6 = F; M x Q = 13 x 17 = 221 = 5 mod 27 = E. And so on. Division was presumably the inverse. Oh, and there must have been an addition table, too. We created tables by hand (on paper) so that we wouldn't have to recalculate all the time; computers would've made this process much easier.

Then we picked a four-character encryption key (I seem to recall we used the word BEAR in one test of the system), put the letters into a 2x2 matrix, and put the plaintext into an nx2 matrix. Like so:


Matrix multiplication produced the encrypted text. The recipient would find the inverse of the BEAR matrix, and multiply it by the encrypted text to produce the plaintext again.

I'm sure we only used this system half a dozen times, just for fun; it was a slow and painstaking process to encrypt and decrypt by hand. I kept the tables for years, though (they're probably still in a box in my garage), and knowing how to do matrix multiplication came in handy years later when it came up in math class.

Previous thoughts about Peter

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Since I've already had a number of entries in my own blog about Brother Peter, I will simply supply the links to those that either are about him, or at least mention him. (Please click the " Continue Reading" button below for the articles in Dobe's blog mentioning Brother Peter...

Peter's Approval


I believe that Peter approved of new technologies and new uses of technologies and would very much like the ease of use of this interface, which is fairly intuitive for beginners and a great tool with a bit of experience.

[Poke around, find the bugs!. -Peter]

[Click on "Extended Entry" hyperlink below for more... - Dobe]